Although the 2011 Subaru Impreza has standard all-wheel drive, which makes it stand out in the affordable small car class, its MSRP range of $17,495 to $20,995 is high for the genre. If the price isn't a deal breaker, there's a lot to be said for the Impreza's performance and sound safety profile.
If you want to test-drive the AWD competition, take a look at the Suzuki SX4, which starts at around $500 less than the Impreza. Also, the Mazda3 is a must test drive, not only because it's fun, but because the sticker shock drops $2,000 (and, like the Impreza, there's an option for either a sedan or a hatchback.)
There are four Impreza trims for 2011, the 2.5i, 2.5i Premium, Outback Sport, and 2.5GT. There are two engines: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 170 hp (standard on all trims paired with a five-speed manual), and a 2.5-liter four cylinder with 224 hp available on the 2.5GT. Fuel economy is, alas, unimpressive at 20/27 on the base and 18/25 on the 2.5i Premium. Those are pretty much worst-in-class numbers.
There's not all that much to say about the Impreza's exterior. The hatchback models are pleasantly rugged, but basically, this is just a small car with the expected small car design. It's far from hideous, but it doesn't do much to stand out from the pack. The cabin, however, is a different story.
Simply put, this is a beautiful, well-organized cabin that looks like it's been plucked out of a much more expensive vehicle. The layout is simple, the seats are comfortable (even in the back), and the gauges are clear and easy to read. The wheel does not tilt and telescope, which can make finding your favorite driving position difficult, but good head and leg room offsets that fault for the most part.
The standard feature list is regrettably short, but you do get AC, audio with MP3/WMA capability, and power windows and mirrors. Many reviewers say, however, that keeping it simple on this model is the best option. Once you upgrade to the nav unit, the dash controls start getting confusing and complicated. Cargo space in the sedan is 11.3 cubic feet; 19 cubic feet on the hatchback with the seats up, and 44.4 cubic feet with the back seat down.
The 2011 has not been tested by the federal government, but the 2010 did well, earning five stars for driver and passenger front-end collision protection and for front passenger side impact. Rear passenger side impacts were rated at four stars, and rollovers were judged at four. The insurance industry, however, has named the 2011 Impreza as a Top Safety Pick.
US News puts the 2011 Subaru Impreza at 19th of 33 affordable small cars. Although a little pricier than the competition, and a little less fuel conscious, the Impreza isn't necessarily a bad buy, it just may not be the right buy. It is, however, more than worth your time to test drive.